So those of you who are sending me stuff all the time are going to feel like I never talk to you, and those of you who send me a short update every once and a while are going to feel like I'm talking your ear off, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to shoot out an email to you guys about what's going on.
And Dad, if you would like, you can make my letters into a blog. Sometimes I don't have time to write in my journal on days when I write letters anyway and I suppose it's ok if vaguely curious people glance at what I'm up to once and a while.
I didn't take any pictures this week although my district as a group has some good ones so hopefully I can get some of those sent to me. It didn't rain quite as crazy as it did in Tucson but we had quite a bit of rain the other day.
Anyway, I want you guys to get a feel for what the CCM (MTC [Missionary Training Center] in Spanish) is really like. Since Thursday I've taught 18 lessons and I'm ideally teaching two more today. Several lessons have fallen through, which I didn't expect to happen at the MTC, but it is what it is. I am getting the dearelder.com stuff and the mail, don't worry it's still America for now. Anyway our teachers decided we needed more of a challenge so we were told that as a district we need to teach 180 lessons in three weeks. We're pretty much on track, that means Elder Seely and I are teaching twenty lessons a week in Spanish (keep in mind a week is basically 5 days because of P-day [Preparation day] and Sunday, although it's P-day and I'm probably going to teach some lessons.
I'm on the west campus where we basically only speak Spanish, well at least everybody is learning Spanish. A few times a week the whole campus is bussed over to devotionals at main campus where random church people speak. Every Tuesday has been a member of the Seventy, Sundays are random MTC people. The busses are a conglomeration of BYU shuttles, coach busses, and 2 prison busses. Literally there are cages at the back of them. It's a nightmare getting from one place to another because it takes like 3 full loads of all of the busses to empty the campus.
I get up at 6:30 every morning, except like half of the mornings when they tell us to be somewhere before 6:30... so that's a lie, but whatever. Since I got here three weeks ago I've read more than half of the Book of Mormon in Spanish (for those of you on this list who are Mormon, I went from 2 Nephi 1 to Alma 40.) And my communicational Spanish is better, since I'm teaching so often. I also do a ton of contacts every day where we go talk to random "investigator/actors" who are sitting around, practice with other missionaries, and sometimes teach messages to the security guards for funsies.
We've had good speakers and great speakers, and a lot of the messages have been powerful to me, but my summaries probably won't do them a lot of justice. One talk discussed how influential we can we in the lives of people who have recently joined the church but have not yet attended the temple or don't feel that they belong. We talked about working to assure that people understand the message that's been taught and be thorough about it, so many times we teach them once and assume they understood everything we said. The general impression I got was this:
There is so much to do. There is no time to rest.
I know the doctrine I'm teaching, but the real challenge that has come up for me is dealing with the fact that I have to understand the needs of the investigator and teach the message for them, so they can see why on earth this Gospel would help them or mean anything in their lives. People generally don't talk the missionaries in because they just desperately want to know if this church is true or not, people have problems in their lives or obstacles to overcome in order to find happiness and come to God, and are looking for something because in some part of them they understand that something is missing, even if they've never experienced it. Well that's also a generalization some people have no idea at all... and that's ok too.
The challenge I'm having is I have the answers, but It's so hard to get them to understand and accept them at a personal level. It's hard for people who have lived hard, incredibly difficult lives to understand that God cares about them personally. I can't make those needs go away, but through Jesus Christ people can understand, and that's the challenge. How can I help them to achieve that understanding and discover the joy that they can feel?
I took that question with me to the temple and received some really incredible insight, and I've also been able to get some great help from my teachers who talked about the gift of discernment from God that helps us to stand in someone else's shoes, the teaching method of the Savior exemplified in John 21, and some other great stuff. In the temple I read several passages from Peter that deal with the expectations placed on the shoulders of the missionary and what their role should be, and found some other great references in Corinthians. I hope you don't mind, literally if I started dumping my study notes and scripture references on you guys it would be way longer of an email. All I do all day is learn Spanish, teach, and read and find scriptures that can help others or improve my ability to help them, so it get's a little crazy.
Ok now for the fun story time...
Earlier last week Hermana [Spanish for "Sister"] Reeves was having a rough day, and she and Hermana Smith weren't getting along very well. We decided to leave them some feel good goodies and a nice note. Elder Gochnour insisted that we use his "Elder Theo Gochnour" stationary.
The note said:
Thank you for bringing the spirit into our class. Sorry if we sometimes drive it away ;)
The Elders, District 149A
We put it in front of the wrong door. We hid under the stairwell and waited to hear them come out. Elder Seely was the only one close enough to hear them, and this is what happened.
Hermana 1- Someone brought us goodies! (looks down the road) They were fast! Its from... (and then in complete horror that can only be made by a worried mormon sister missionary who is concerned someone is flirting with her) THE ELDERS!!!!!!
Hermana 2- This is terrible!... What do we even do????
So we were pretty sure the branch president was going to show up and give us a talking to. Eventually we found out it was just the Hermana's roommates and it got sorted out. But yeah, I'd say that was an adventure.
Ok, so outside of that, this week was really hard. The fact that these investigators clearly needed help, and I had some way to help them, but I couldn't figure out how, was really difficult. It made me realize how far I had to go to be an effective missionary. It takes a lot of study to be able to give someone specific reading from the Book of Mormon that will help them with any problem under the sun so they can start to understand that the book doesn't just prove the validity of modern prophets and the restoration of the Gospel of Christ through Joseph Smith, it has a real, profound impact on our struggles. If they all wanted to study and pray to God they could find that on their own, but how do you help someone who's to angry to talk to God, or to guilty to accept his love? Or to disinterested to understand what they are missing? It's been a learning process and I've got a long way to go, but I feel closer to God than ever and I've been amazed by my experiences.
Saturday was really, really rough, but I did have a powerful experience that I'd like to really briefly share. Sorry non-Mormon listeners this is most of my life...
I was exhausted and felt like a failure because I just can't teach the way I need to, with empathy, understanding, clarity, and love, all of which can invite the spirit to testify of these things, in Spanish. But I got to dinner and said a silent prayer before I started eating, just like normal, and I just felt this warm feeling like arms around me. It was like I had just gotten home and told my Dad about a hard day, but it was from a different Father in a different place, who was glad I was trying, and was willing to uplift my sorry little self in my quiet little need. God lives.
Talk to you all next week! I'll try and get some letters out!